Monday, April 30, 2012

Latest G.I.Joe: Retaliation Trailer

I have no idea if this is going to be awful or fantastic, but I'll be there either way:

Domain Names Purchased

Just a quick post this morning to give word that I've purchased a couple of domain names: and (you might notice that the "s" is gone from pulp in the blog title above).

I would have removed the "s" from the blog URL, but that will break anyone's blog link to here, and would break my own blogroll. Right now, both of those URLs redirect back here. I haven't decided if I want to create a "real" website, or just stick with what I've got here for the time being. Decisions, decisions...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review: The Novel Writer's Toolkit by Bob Mayer

Learning how to write is a little like learning how to box. In order to excel at it, you have to get beat on by someone with far superior skill day after day, year after year, until you can finally hold your own. And even then, every time you step into the ring, you know you're going to feel like crap when you climb back out again.

That having been said, most of us who look at the prospect of earning a living (or at least, earning some mad money) through selling our written wares know this is a necessary part of the process. To that end, we go out and find a few (or more than a few) books on writing and dig through them to glean what helpful tips and golden rules we can find. I know I've read a few over the years, some better than others, some more specific to genre writing while others are more generic, focusing on the technical aspects of word-smithing.

Bob Mayer is the sort of writer I'd like to become 20 years from now. He's written a bajillion books ("bajillion" being a more technical term for "around fifty"), he lectures and teaches writing, and although his works aren't explosively popular, he's maintained a steady following and does well for himself writing action and adventure fiction. In my mind, it doesn't get much better than that. So, when I saw he'd written a couple of books on the writing process, I looked at them and decided to pick up The Novel Writer's Toolkit. it was $5 on Amazon for the Kindle edition, and I figured there would be enough within its digital pages to make the buy worth my while.

Long story short, I think the book earned its five bucks, but only just. I will admit, there are some good tips to be found. For example, I really liked the idea of boiling your book down into a "core idea" that you could express in one sentence, and then you keep that core idea in the forefront of your mind whenever you're working on the book. Everything you write and everything you consider should be aligned with that core idea, because otherwise it is taking time and energy away from the story.

I also agree with Mayer's assertion that, as writers, the world is our body of research, and we shouldn't make apologies for digging wherever and whenever we find inspiration. A lot of writers, especially newbie writers such as myself, feel guilt when we're doing something that isn't writing; watching a movie or TV show, reading a book, playing a video game, or just chilling out and listening to music. But Mayer reminds us that stories and inspiration can come from anywhere, and any time we encounter a story being told, experiencing that story and learning from how it's being presented is "work" because if you take away something from the experience, it'll make you a better writer.  This struck a chord with me because last weekend, I spent a good chunk of time marathoning through the first two seasons of Justified on DVD. I knew I should have been editing my manuscript, but now I say to myself hey, I was experiencing some of what I consider the best crime drama storytelling on TV today, and I was paying attention to dialogue, to character, to pacing and plot and theme and arc.  I was doing work, and I shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Beyond these and other ideas, The Novel Writer's Toolkit doesn't really break any new ground for me, although it does a good job of reinforcing what I'd already seen. Mayer is a fan of using a very "cinematic eye" when writing, something that I do a lot, in part because of my background in film.  Some writers pen their stories as if they were creating a movie in novel form, while others write in a way that is almost antithetical to a "silver screen viewing" of the book. I don't necessarily think one is better than the other, but I know I come from a very cinematic point of view when I put pen to paper.

There are portions of the book where I don't agree with the author. I'm not going to argue them all here point by point, because let's face it; he's the veteran professional author and I am hardly even a rank amateur. However, there are a lot of "Never do this / Always do this" points in the book that I take issue with. For example, Mayer's assertion that there can only ever be one Protagonist. I would agree that most of the time, this makes sense. But it is not a hard and fast rule; take a look at George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series - who exactly is the "protagonist" in those books? Or perhaps the Phoenix Force series? There is a team leader, but I don't feel that he is in any way the "protagonist" of the series. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples to be had where a book or series has no clearly defined protagonist.

A similar issue I have is the idea that your protagonist should change significantly by the end of the book; that if you took your protagonist as they are in the beginning of the book and placed them in the climactic scene at the end, the protagonist would fail. I can see that working for some really dramatic books that cling to the Joseph Campbell school of "The Hero's Journey", but...this notion seems to ring hollow for me because it really only works if that one novel is a huge turning point in the character's life. For a number of series, this advice falls quite flat, and even for the first book in a series, it doesn't always work. How would I apply this to something like Casino Royale? James Bond isn't so changed by his experiences throughout the novel that he would fail at the end, and in fact (bit of a spoiler alert here), he really doesn't "succeed" at anything by the end of the story - he's lost more than he's gained. Not every Protagonist is a Frodo or a Harry Potter or a Luke Skywalker.

For the sake of brevity, I'll just cut to my biggest single complaint about this book: presentation-wise, it is a pile of crap. The font sizes jump all over the place for no real reason at all - there were times where the text was in three different font sizes on my Kindle screen. Mayer points out at the beginning of the book that he's gone back and edited the book many times over the years, and I'm sure that means there are different pieces of formatting code buried in the guts of the book. All that junk needs to be dug out and thrown away, because it was extremely distracting. Also annoying was the constant use of indented text, often poorly formatted, with irregular spacing and a lot of jumbled, hard to read text-based "diagrams" that are a terrible idea when ported from print to digital media. Any e-book formatting guide will tell you that the layout for this book is a definite no-no, and Mayer really should have known better.

In addition, there are extensive editorial errors throughout the text. A lot of errors. Words that are missing, or left in from a sentence edit that should have been cut once the sentence was re-written. Plurals that should be singles and vice versa. Lots of really simple things, but for a veteran author, the proofreading of this book was non-existent. I am in no way a "critical" reader, but I was repeatedly grinding my teeth upon finding an error that would get me lambasted if it ever appeared in something I wrote.  This is again clearly a result of him repeatedly editing the book over the years, adding new things to it and changing others, but he really needs to sit down, read the whole book from cover to cover, and give it a thorough polish, because it is very embarrassing to read a book on how to write that is a copy-editor's nightmare.

And finally, one last quibble. Mayer repeatedly references another book of his, "Write it Forward", throughout this book. I understand that an author may want you to know another book of his covers things you might want to read, but these references happen so often that it felt way too much like a hard sell. There's even a rather large excerpt from Write it Forward at the end of this book. If Mayer thinks the two are so inseparable, I feel he should have made it very clear that this book is "step one" and WiF is "step two", and leave it at that. Pointing out " I state in Write it Forward..." at least twenty times just seems really gauche to me.

I usually don't rate books on a "stars" basis here, but I'd give this book three out of five. There is good advice here, but I think you can find that advice in other books that present that advice in a much better format.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Television Series Review: Justified

Since it's been on TV for three seasons (just wrapping up its 3rd season last week), I feel a little silly recommending this amazing series simply because, if you haven't watched it yet, you probably aren't going to do so any time soon.

However, my love for this series compels me to get on a soapbox and state that I think it's one of the best crime dramas I've seen in a long, long time.  This past week, I sat down and watched the first two seasons on DVD, mostly as a refresher to events leading up to the third season. For anyone completely unfamiliar with the series, Justified follows the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens as he hunts down criminals and battles his own personal demons deep in the heart of Kentucky coal country, Harlan County. If that place-name rings a bell, that's probably because you've heard of Harlan Country, USA, an award-winning documentary about coal mining and battles (literally) between the miners and the mining company. I've seen the documentary and it is a powerful, sometimes shockingly brutal story of small town feuds, politics, and the struggles between small towns and big businesses.

However, back to Justified. After a very public and controversial shooting in Miami, Raylan Givens is transferred to the Lexington, Kentucky office of the Marshall's service. Born and bred in Kentucky, Raylan is horrified to be transferred there; he "escaped" the state at 19 and had no intention of ever going back home, but the Marshall's service thinks otherwise. Raylan is put under the supervision of Art Mullen, an old friend and former shooting co-instructor when Raylan taught at Glynco, where the Marshall's service training facilities are located. Between this piece of information and the shooting in the opening moments of the pilot, we're given some indication that Raylan Givens is not a man you want to draw down on, and believe me, that is a notion reinforced over the course of the series.

Back home in Kentucky, Raylan finds himself returning time and time again to Harlan country, where he grew up and now must perform his duties, hunting fugitives who used to be old high school classmates and hell-raising buddies.  This is one of the strongest points in the series; the interactions between Raylan and so many people from his past, most of whom have decided to pursue interests and a way of life that is fundamentally at odds with Raylan's career as "a federal". That he is now lumped in with the "revenuers" and other "big city lawmen" who are universally despised by his old acquaintances is a constant point of conflict, and one that is handled admirably, both by the writers and directors as well as the cast.

As has been done by many reviewers, Graham Yost (the man who developed the series) refers to Justified in one of the commentaries as a "post-modern western". This comment perked my ears up for obvious reasons, and I think the label fits. Raylan Givens is every inch the Western lawman, from his quick-draw skills to his cowboy boots to his hat and his intense, deadly stare. Timothy Olyphant is the perfect actor to portray a western lawman, a fact validated by his great performance as one in the HBO series Deadwood, where he played another Marshall, Seth Bullock. However, Olyphant's great performance on that series is, in my mind, completely overshadowed by his role as Raylan Givens, who's wife describes him as "...the angriest man I have ever known". This is one of the lines that sold the role to Olyphant, because it cuts to the heart of his character; for all his modern civility and smooth talking when the situation calls for it, there resides in the heart of Raylan Givens a smouldering ember of righteous fury and explosive violence. When he is confronted over his recent series of shootings, his boss Art says something to the effect of "...if you were in grade school and bit a kid every week, pretty soon you'd get the reputation as a 'biter'". Well, Raylan has the reputation as a "shooter", and over the course of three seasons, that is a reputation he earns in spades. Justifed has a number of shootouts, and while they are all to a greater or lesser degree "justified", it is clear that Raylan has a tendency - conscious or not - to place himself in situations where gunplay is the only solution to the problem. Raylan is a hammer, no doubt about it, and many people throughout the series feel that he looks at every criminal as if they have a nice, flat surface at the top of their heads.

However, the fault doesn't lay entirely in Raylan's lap. The criminal element in Justified is rife with violence and murder, where poverty and desperation drive many to commit heinous crimes, and where generations of feuding and clandestine criminal activity in the backwoods of the "hollers" can only be mitigated by law enforcement, never eradicated. Every character has access to a firearm, be it a double-barreled "scattergun", a hunting rifle, a revolver in a drawer somewhere, a more modern semi-automatic pistol or assault rifle. Having grown up in a rural area myself, I know that guns are more common than pickup trucks, and there's a whole lot of pickup trucks. This doesn't necessarily make every character a criminal, but it does give everyone a lethal means of resolving conflicts if pushed into a desperate corner.

All this mixes into a heady brew of American tropes that form the heart and soul of the series. Classic Western stories most often revolve around the individual coming into conflict with an entity larger than themselves - a feuding family, a coal mining company, a law enforcement agency, or a marauding band of violent gun thugs. The individual taking the law into their own hands - justified or maybe not so much - forms the crux of the conflict in these stories. In this series, Raylan's struggles to remain on the right side of the law in a lawless land form the show's over-arching conflict, as he is dragged time and time again into personal feuds and vendettas with old acquaintances and new enemies.

But what makes this show a "post-modern western"? Well for the easy money, you could certainly pick the show up, dust off all the modern trappings, and drop it back into Harlan country a hundred years ago, and the series would still pack a lot of punch. But it is the generations-old mentality of the locals coming into conflict with the modern world of business, criminal enterprise, and 21st century law enforcement that gives the show its unique flavor. Hillbilly moonshiners using cell phones and M-4 carbines, drug dealers selling "hillbilly heroin" (Oxycontin), meth cookers making deals with Cartel kingpins on Florida golf courses...despite the mixing of such disparate worlds, it is a mixture that works, and works very well.

Although the third season has just ended, you can get the first two seasons for a song via Amazon. I picked up the first season on DVD for $15, and I think that's not too much to ask for 13 episodes of top-notch television drama. Fire up the television, pour yourself a bourbon, tip back your hat, and dive into the world of Harlan country, Kentucky.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: Deathwatch by Robb White

I stumbled across this book purely by seeing its cover among a slew of other books, highlighted over at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, a great blog produced by reviewer Marty Mckee. Curious, I took a look at the Amazon entry and discovered there was a nicely-priced Kindle edition of the book. Two seconds later, and it was mine for the reading.

I read Deathwatch in a couple of hours on Friday evening. It is a fast, easy read, and author Robb White is very economical with his language, but at the same time, he is not a simple writer; the descriptions are evocative - in many scenes brutally so - and it is clear White has a strong understanding of the desert and the geology behind its formation. It is no coincidence that the main character is a studying Geology in college, and that knowledge comes in handy during the story.

I don't want to give much away, but the plot of Deathwatch revolves around an accidental shooting, with Ben, the main character, wanting to report the incident and Madec, the antagonist, wanting to leave it alone. Eventually Madec forces Ben to abandon all his supplies and clothes and banishes him out into the desert, to suffer death by exposure within the crosshairs of Madec's .358 bolt action hunting rifle, dozens of miles from any civilization or hope of assistance.

To get all gun-geeky for a moment, the author refers to Madec's rifle as a ".358 Magnum Mauser action on a Winchester 70 stock". The only cartridge of that type I could find was the .358 Norma Magnum. There is a .358 Winchester, but it is nowhere near as powerful (muzzle energy of ~4,200 for the Norma vs. ~2,900 for the best Winchester load), so the Norma is probably what the author is referring to, since in the Wikipedia entry, animals like bighorn sheep are the perfect game for the .358 Norma.

Gun talk aside, what happens from this point onward is pretty dramatic stuff. Ben has to use every scrap of desert knowledge at his disposal in order to survive in the brutal environment. Time and again Ben tries to find some resource to help his situation, but Madec, a highly intelligent and resourceful man himself, always seems one step ahead of his victim.  While the story falls into the "man hunting man" category of thrillers as far as I'm concerned, there is something of a twist; Madec is hoping to avoid a second murder, and trusts in the elements to do  his dirty work. It means Ben must fight against not just Madec, but the desert itself. It's not a battle he can afford to lose.

If you're looking for a short, easily digestible wilderness thriller, I recommend Deathwatch. I'm sure picking up a paperback copy is fine, but having this available on the Kindle at a not-outrageous price is a great deal. Death Wish, one of my favorites, is on Kindle for $10, way too much for a 40-year old thriller that probably clocks in at ~60K words, if that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Discussing My Novel in Progress: Killer Instincts

At the top of my blog, there's a page that links to some potential "back copy" for my novel-in-progress, Killer Instincts. The manuscript has been finished for a while now, and I'm about halfway through the first big edit after my Alpha Reader had a crack at the text.

For the majority of you who've never heard or seen me talk about it...

Killer Instincts is the story of William Lynch, an upper-middle class college junior, whose parents and teenage sister are killed in a mob hit while he's in Paris during spring break in March of 2001. William's father is a hotshot DA in Boston, attempting to prosecute Pauly Paggiano, the son of a minor-league crime boss, for the rape and murder of a young college girl. In order to deliver a savage message to the eyewitnesses in the case - the only real evidence the prosecution has - the Paggianos kill William's family and burn their Providence home to the ground.

William is informed of the tragedy by his estranged uncle Jamie Lynch, a Vietnam veteran and former SOG Green Beret. Jamie leads a reclusive existence in Maine, where he owns a log cabin on the shore of Moosehead Lake and works in a sporting goods shop. William has only met his uncle a handful of times over the years; both of William's parents were against Jamie having much contact with their son, worried that Jamie - whose views on war and violence can be disturbing - would somehow "corrupt" their son into a warmonger.  Jamie was a soldier who thrived in combat, and after the war he spent a number of years participating in activities that can only be described as morally ambiguous...

Now, Jamie is the only family William has left. Meeting for the first time in years, Jamie reveals to William the reasons behind his family's slaughter; the court case against Pauly Paggiano, how the eyewitnesses have all withdrawn their testimonies or otherwise backed out of the case, and how the case against Pauly has been thrown out. Faced with the enormity of what has happened to him, William realizes that at 21, any hope he has for a normal life has been erased by this terrible act. Feeling he doesn't have anything to lose, since his future has been so horribly ruined, William decides he's going to find a way to avenge his family and destroy the Paggianos.  He begs Jamie to join with him in his crusade, but Jamie refuses, declaring that he can't go back to that way of life after decades of maintaining a civilized existence.  Seeing his nephew is committed to this idea with or without his help, Jamie begrudgingly admits that, although he's not going to help William, he knows someone who can.

Jamie introduces his nephew to Richard, a mysterious, eccentric Texan who made his living for decades as a professional mercenary. Although he's now retired from taking active assignments, Richard has a network of contacts and resources he'd be willing to provide to William, for a price. After some consideration, William decides that he wouldn't feel right contracting the Paggiano's destruction; he wants to keep the revenge personal. So, for a hundred thousand dollars (plus expenses), Richard agrees to mentor William through an intense, month-long training and indoctrination regimen out in the Texas desert.

What takes place next is the mental and physical transformation of a peaceful, white-collar college student into a bloody-minded vigilante killer. And then the fun really begins...

Killer Instincts is an exploration of violence and morality, wrapped in a tale of personal vendetta. Writing the story, I took a great deal of inspiration from Brian Garfield's novel Death Wish, made so famous by the film adaptation starring Charles Bronson. I think Death Wish gets something of a bad rap, in part because of how ridiculous and over-the-top the movie sequels become (let's face it, by the end, Kersey is killing guys with rocket launchers...). But the original novel, and to much the same extent the first movie, really do a great job of getting into the head of a peaceful, liberal-minded, affluent urban male who suddenly finds himself thrust into a world of tragic violence, and how he learns to use that violence to regain control of his life. The novel, even more than the movie, does an excellent job of laying out the arguments for and against vigilantism, and whether such actions are, or ever could be, the work of a completely rational mind. The last third of Garfield's novel really becomes a debate as to weather or not Paul Benjamin (renamed to Paul Kersey in the films) has become psychotic.

I also took a lot from books written on the subject of violence and society. Historian John Keegan has some very good comments in his book A History of Warfare, on how culture affects attitudes on violence. Some of this makes its way into Killer Instincts, where William indirectly references the text as one he read for a Western Civilization class in college.  In particular, a section of the book focusing on "cowboy cultures" which developed tactics for herding cattle or other food animals, as well as familiarity with killing and butchering large animals - the squealing and the flailing, the gushing blood, the spilled guts, the stink of offal and excrement. Keegan believes that cultures (such as the Mongols) who were familiar with these practices made for superior killers against societies where most people were farmers and raised animals for milk or other byproducts. Herding cultures are, in a way, predatory cultures, where the shepherds can quickly slip into the role of wolf attacking the "flock" that is their enemy.

Another excellent text on this subject is Colonel Dave Grossman's On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Anyone who wants to read about the subject should pick up this text, because it delivers a deep examination of how soldiers and warriors are indoctrinated into "killing culture", especially in this modern era, where we are so separated from death and casual violence.  There has been no small amount of controversy around Grossman's book; some accuse him of fudging findings or drawing conclusions that cited studies might not agree with, but I think in the end there's plenty to take away from this work. I spent a lot of time thinking about how Grossman breaks down the "distances of killing" and how they affect the killer, and I tried incorporating some of that into the story I was writing.

There were many other influences at play while I wrote this novel; lots of books and movies about mercenaries and vendettas and revenge stories. The original idea behind the novel was the character of William Lynch himself; originally I wanted to write a pure action thriller about a mercenary who'd never been in the military, and from there i began thinking about how a "civilian" would get into the mercenary business. Eventually I came up with the idea that the character had earned his spurs, so to speak, while avenging a family vendetta. Of course, how does a "normal" young man pull off such a challenge and live to tell about it? The answer to that question is what led me down the road to writing this novel.

As I said in the beginning, right now I'm a couple of weeks away from being done with the first major editorial pass. I'll be looking for readers to provide feedback and encourage another round of editing. With a little luck, I might be able to pub the novel through KDP in mid-June. Fingers crossed...

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Keys to the E-Pubbing Kingdom

Derek Canyon over at Adventures in ePublishing has done us all a big favor, and processed a whole crapton of data on eBook sellers who've crossed the 50,000 books sold line. This gives some good indicators on the trends and forces involved in successful selling of eBooks.

Take a look at Derek's article here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review: Arron of the Black Forest Book 1 by Philip Athans & Mel Odom

I've stated numerous times that I think the future of ebook genre fiction isn't going to be massive, ponderous tomes written by folks like the late Robert Jordan or Tom Clancy (who's still kicking around). It's going to be a renaissance of short, easily digestible works that go for cheap bucks, and pack a lot of game time into a low page count. We'll be back to the days of the short novel / novella series, produced a volume every couple of months, and eagerly snapped up by readers as soon as they become available.

Arron of the Black Forest, Book 1: The Haunting of Dragon's Cliff, written by Philip Athans and Mel Odom, is the first volume in just such a series.  Although there's no word count, my guesstimate is the work clocks in somewhere around 30,000 words, or 116 pages as estimated by Amazon.  Our protagonist is - wait for it - Arron of the Black Forest, last of his people, a wandering adventurer and barbarian without a home. Arron's people were all killed when the magicians of the more civilized lands to the south conjured up an enormous glacier right on top of them, instantly encasing the entire population in a thousand-foot tall block of ice.  Arron is the only one who wasn't caught in this icy apocalypse, and now he wanders the lands, really pissed off.

In The Haunting of Dragon's Cliff, Arron has been spending the last month fleeing from a posse / band of bounty hunters tracking him down for killing a man in a bar fight. Arron is eventually driven to seek shelter within Dragon's Cliff, an enormous, abandoned mansion (on the edge of a cliff) shunned by all the locals because it is haunted. However, Arron isn't a local and even if he was, he's desperate enough to flee anywhere.  So into the Mansion he goes, and soon, the posse / band of bounty hunters follows him inside. I won't give away any spoilers, but let's just say that Arron & Co. have a terrifying adventure that's a whole lot weirder than anyone was expecting.

The Haunting of Dragon's Cliff was pretty entertaining. There's some good action and adventure, the Mansion and its "residents" are pretty cool, and I think this has definite promise as a new adventure series. The fights are pretty gory and the description of the Mansion itself, along with it's "special properties" was nicely done as well.

My biggest quibble, and it's really just a quibble, is with the character of Arron. Philip Athans speaks about his interpretation of the various sub-genres of fantasy in an article here. I agree with a lot of what he says, but I don't really agree with the Barbarian Hero as an "everyman". In some ways yes, the BH is the protagonist that the reader "relates" to in that we see the strange, exotic fantasy world more or less through their eyes, confronted with the strange and wonderful, the magical and the dangerous. But historically, the BH is in no way an "everyman".

In practically every depiction of a Barbarian Hero - and this has its roots deeply seated in Robert E. Howard's Conan and his other savage protagonists - the BH is a primordial ubermensch.  The BH's life has been one of unceasing danger and hardship, Darwinism at its finest, and as a result the BH is stronger, faster, and capable of enduring more punishment than any "civilized" man. Their senses are sharper, their survival instincts more keenly honed, and their will utterly indomitable.  We cheer for the Barbarian Hero, and we might react the same way he does to the exotic, degenerate world around him, but let's face it; we've got more in common with the soft, decadent, civilized folk the BH sneers at than we do with the Hero himself.

That having been said, I don't find Arron either an "everyman" hero or a primordial ubermensch.  He's more of a hearty yokel with an angsty chip on his shoulder and a capacity for absorbing a lot of punishment, and much of that capacity (mini spoiler here) is granted seemingly by the Mansion itself.  I feel like the writers wanted Arron to be more badass than your typical home town hero, but not as over-the-top as a Conan or Thongor.  I'm not really sure if the result works for me. This is compounded by the fact that although Arron is repeatedly referred to as a "barbarian" by the more "civilized" folk, the world itself doesn't seem exotic and ancient enough to have classical barbarians a la Conan or Kull. The setting seems to fall into a mid 1700's Western civilization time period; no one wears armor, swords seem more saber-like than a classic broadsword and battleaxe era, and the look and feel of the Mansion itself is very 18th century colonial mansion. If Arron were described more as a sort of wild, Scottish Highlander-esque sort of fellow, coming down into the civilized lands from the "glens" or the "moors" (the Black Forest is described as a "bogland" but that's about it), I think the reader could comfortably attach cultural and historical analogues here and there, which is, I feel, rather important to facilitate immersing oneself in the story when there's not much world-building to be done.

Hmmm, all the above seems far more negative than I intended. Like I said at the beginning, the story is a fast, fun, entertaining read well worth the price of admission, and I encourage everyone to give it a try. When the second issue comes out I'll be sure to snap it up and review it as well. Perhaps as time goes on, the issues I have with Arron and the world he lives in will iron themselves out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Importance of Character

I watched the original Star Wars trilogy over the weekend, and while I might talk at some point about it in greater detail, it just made me more annoyed with the prequel movies. Yeah, there's a lot of fanboy rage out there concerning the prequels and where people think Lucas "screwed up", some of it more legitimate than others.

But here's a guy who (although the review is meant to be funny) makes some really valid points on the subject of creating strong protagonists and supporting characters in adventure stories. Although his voice is pretty annoying, he makes a good argument on the subject of what many think is Episode I's greatest flaw - the lack of a strong protagonist. Take a look:

This is just the first of seven parts to this review. I haven't seen any of the others, but this is definitely worth watching.

EDIT: Here's a cool Youtube video by a guy who goes through the plot of Episode I and makes a good case for how it could have been a much stronger film, because he also sees the need for a strong protagonist.

Book Review: The Rogue Gentleman #1 Private Vendetta by Brian Drake

I read RG #1 over the weekend, and it was a lot of fun. This is perfect summer reading, subway ride, lunch break entertainment. The action moves fast, the dialogue is quick and snappy, the exposition clear and engaging.

The main character, Steve Dane, is a former Force Recon Marine and ex-CIA operative. Although the reasons for his departure from the CIA are vague, we know Dane has left government service on less than stellar terms with his former employer.  Dane spent some time as part of a mercenary company called the 30-30 Batallion, and he's got a lot of contacts around the world in all lines of work, from old CIA partners to former 30-30 comrades. Not all of these people are happy to deal with Dane, but you get the impression that his network is far-reaching and will play a part in every adventure. In addition his "partner" and lover is a former Russian secret agent, Nina Talikova. The dialogue and banter between these two is entertaining and does a good job of giving the story a little "fluff".

The plot of Private Vendetta is pretty straightforward: While vacationing in Italy, Dane gets caught up in the abduction of a retired Mafia boss' daughter. Turns out that the boss has an enemy who wants to kill the daughter in an act of vengeance.  However, as the plot unwinds, we discover there are some larger, much more dangerous activities going on that Dane gets caught up into.

While Brian might want to make another editorial pass (I spotted a couple of minor, but obvious, wording errors early on in the story), overall this was extremely enjoyable and a perfect example of the kind of lost "men's adventure fiction" the Kindle and other e-book readers are helping to bring back; short, quick, escapist reads that are light on length and cost, but heavy on action and adventure.